Archive for the 'Community' Category

Here to stay

Monday, November 16th, 2015

I am celebrating the start of a new chapter in my life…actually, it’s probably less of a new chapter and more of a sequel.

Because on Monday, after working in a totally different industry for the past two years in Marin, I’m going back to work at the Petaluma Visitors Program – and I couldn’t be happier.

That’s not to say that I’m not grateful for what I gained in the time I was away from the PVP. I’m coming back with skills I didn’t have before. I thought I understood multitasking but now my game has really been upped. My recent  job could was like being a Chinese circus performer that that has to keep a dozen plates spinning at once; lose focus and in a matter of minutes, it all comes come crashing to the floor. Except in my case, instead of plates, we were spinning logo’d mugs, branded tote bags or embroidered jackets.

I also learned how to press forward – in a gracious but determined way – until you get the answer you need. And because the company differentiated itself by providing outstanding customer service, I’ve learned how to always communicate a smile over the phone.

But what I didn’t have in my job in Marin was relationships and a community…where the people are more important than the bottom line. When I left the PVP in 2013, I was choking back tears as I said goodbye to the staff and volunteers. That’s how much these people meant to me.

But when I said my goodbyes on Friday, it just wasn’t that hard because I didn’t have the same kind of emotional connection. Now I understand how wonderful it is to develop a community within the workplace. It adds so much fulfillment and gratification to work with people who you really care about. Needless to say, I am really looking forward to reconnecting and rebuilding relationships with the wonderful staff and volunteers at the Visitors Center.

And, it’s going to be an exciting time to be promoting Petaluma as a destination. There are new hotels in the works, the SMART train will start running in 2016 with a ticketing station right at the Visitors Center, Lagunitas is expanding, and winery tasting rooms are starting to pop up downtown. And we know how much Petaluma loves events. You’d be hard pressed to find a weekend on the calendar that doesn’t have a festival or fair happening in Petaluma…so there will be plenty to talk about.

If this wasn’t reason enough to be rejoicing, I won’t have to commute! Sure, it’s been fascinating to watch the amazing “Bigge” cranes that always remind me of a book I used to read to our son when he was little; it was titled “Machines as Big as Monsters.” But adding two hours a day to my life because I won’t be sitting in traffic on 101? I will be much less cranky. Sorry, couldn’t resist.

China is where she wants to be

Sunday, August 2nd, 2015

A couple of Saturdays ago, when we were driving through the city from Hayes Valley to the Golden Gate Bridge, we happened to go past the Chinese Consulate on Laguna Street. I was pretty excited – not quite as excited as when we were driving through San Francisco and I saw a naked guy (except for cowboy boots) walking along Market Street – but excited nonetheless to have accidentally found the Consulate.

You see, visiting the Chinese Consulate has loomed large in our summer plans. Our daughter Jennifer Lynn will be studying abroad in Shanghai next year which requires a student Visa. She can only get her Visa by taking her passport and university documents to the Chinese Consulate for processing. It’s a little like going before the All Powerful Oz to find out if you can be admitted into the Emerald City of the Peoples Republic.

Finding the location of the Consulate was perfect timing because when we got home that afternoon, the paperwork for Jennifer’s Visa application was waiting in the mailbox. So Jennifer and I made plans for taking a day off work and heading back into San Francisco.

I’ve never traveled outside of the country so I had no idea what the process for getting a Visa would be like. But visiting a Consulate conjured up images of diplomats and protocol. I pictured Jennifer and me entering through the stately double doors into a sedately carpeted room where a beautiful Asian woman sits behind a mahogany desk greeting visitors and directing them to the appropriate office for Visa processing. People speak in hushed tones because important diplomatic work is going on.

So on Wednesday when we arrived at the Consulate, the sign on the door said that to get to the Visa office, we needed to walk up to Geary Street and turn right.

Okay, no problem. I was a little disappointed we weren’t going to enter the Consulate through the impressive entrance with the red Chinese emblem but at least we were within walking distance of where we need to be. When we got to the entrance, there were about 15 people waiting for security to check the contents of their bags and backpacks.

Once we were inside, my brain couldn’t make sense of what I saw. It was a noisy, crowed room with linoleum floors, metal chairs and white cinderblock walls punctuated with the sound of screaming kids. Where are the plush Oriental rugs, lacquered screens, carved Chinese dragons, and tea ceremonies? I kept blinking but nothing changed.

Then it hit me. Oh my gosh – the Consulate is the Chinese DMV! I was so disappointed. “Now serving 104 at Window 8” scrolled across the digital board in both English and Chinese characters. Jennifer had number 186.

Jennifer was totally amused at my naiveté. “You know, Mom, I’m just not that special.” I suppose that just because travelling to China is totally outside my realm of experience doesn’t mean that it is for lots of other people – especially in the Bay Area.

Visiting the Consulate wasn’t the experience I was expecting but it still was a memorable experience. Great people watching and good bonding time with Jennifer during the two hours that we waited until her number was called. And the good news?  We get to do it all again in a week when we go to pick up her Visa.

It’s not all garbage

Sunday, May 17th, 2015

Saturday’s Press Democrat had a dramatic photo on the front for the article“Recycling at a loss.” The photo was of a Redwood Empire Disposal worker walking past several enormous mountains of garbage. The photo caption explained that this was stuff that people had put into their blue recycling cans but is in fact,  notrecyclable material – the gross stuff of life like diapers, greasy paper towels, rotting food, cat litter and on-and-on – all of this and more had all been tossed into recycling cans and then had to be sorted out by hand.

This photo saddened me on a lot of levels. Sonoma County is an environmentally conscious and forward-thinking community. And yet the photo showed literally mountains of evidence that our community is falling short when it comes to recycling, arguably one of the easiest ways to demonstrate care for the planet. I was also sad because I have a personal connection for believing in recycling: my husband Steve participated in the development of the Unicycler Cat and it’s his cartoon cat that you see on the side of all the garbage trucks.

So I couldn’t help but wonder: why are so many people mindlessly tossingeverything into their blue can and not making the effort to separate the garbage from the recyclables?

I think there is some laziness involved. I know have been guilty of that at times. Instead of taking the time to find out how to properly dispose of something, I just want to be rid of it right then and there. “Hey, I’ll just toss it in the recycling can and let them figure it out on the other end.”

But even more than the “I’m too busy to have to think about sorting my trash,” syndrome, I think ignorance is the major reason that people don’t recycle. On a practical level, people need to be educated about how to recycle. And on a more global level, they need to be educated about why they should recycle.

I think the Unicycler Cat has done a great job communicating “single stream recycling” which means that we don’t have to separate newspapers from plastic like we used to, but the downside is that now people think that everything can be tossed into the blue can. There is a lot of confusion about what can be recycled and what can’t. Until I opened the Recycling Guide to do some research for this blog, I certainly didn’t know that crunchy plastic (including Saran Wrap), terra cotta pots, and Styrofoam meat trays are not recyclable but that small appliances like toasters (with the cord removed) are recyclable.

I have always wondered why the trash company didn’t have a list printed on the inside of the lids of each can, telling us what is and isn’t acceptable to put in the recycling and garbage cans. If they did, when faced with the “Is it okay to toss this broken hose into the recycling?” we would know better.

Recycling companies face a major challenge because there aren’t any consequences for not following the “rules.” The Recycling Cops won’t be at the curb handing out tickets if someone carelessly tosses their AA batteries into the blue can.

So the emphasis needs to be on educating us about why small actions make a big difference. Representatives from Redwood Empire Disposal should be taking the Unicycler Cat to every Sonoma County elementary school and holding an assembly about the importance of recycling.

If kids get passionate about the difference they can make by recycling, they can take the message home and educate their parents.  Remember Smokey the Bear? The recycling company’s version should be “Only you can prevent garbage piles!”

Supper at school

Monday, February 16th, 2015

An article appeared in the paper a couple of weeks ago that continues to roll around in my mind and whenever I think about it, it really makes me feel sad.

I can hear someone saying, “Really?! There’s just the one article that left you depressed?”  No…and taken in the context of the truly horrible stuff that is reported in the papers, this article seems downright benign. But I found it disturbing nonetheless.

So what was the article? It was: “More students are being served dinner at school nationwide.” According to the article In the 2014 fiscal year, 104 million suppers were served to students, up from about 19 million in 2009.

The fact that elementary age students – many of whom also eat breakfast at school – are now eating all of their meals at school really tugs at my heart for several reasons.

There is something about a family coming together at the end of the day that is sacred. It’s not about mom cooking and serving meatloaf and mashed potatoes dressed in her pearls and shirtwaist dress ala June Cleaver. But it is about every member of the family sitting together, putting down their cell phones or video games, and looking one another in the eye – even if it’s just for 15 minutes and “dinner” is a bowl of Mini-Wheats.

And once again, schools have stepped in to meet a need that ideally should be provided by parents. Aren’t the basic necessities of life such as providing food and shelter for kids, the responsibility of their parents?

But I can also see the other side of the argument. What choice do many parents have except to rely on the school? No one would argue that even if a school has very nurturing after-school child care workers, a school environment is a very poor substitute for being home with parents and siblings. But if the parents work long hours and aren’t able to pick up their students by “dinnertime,” it’s better that the kids receive some nourishment rather than end the day famished.

I think the reason this topic depresses me is because it paints a very bleak picture of the way that family life looks for so many families. A 6 year-old spends 10 hours at school, eats some chicken nuggets in the multi-use room before being picked up by an exhausted mom or dad who once they arrive home, only has enough energy to zone out in front of the TV. The child retreats to their bedroom to play video games until they fall asleep.

How to bring families back together to strengthen the family structure and instill values and attitudes? I don’t know – it’s a huge question. But I don’t think serving dinner at school will help.

In case of emergency

Sunday, February 8th, 2015

So I was at the gym on Saturday morning, working up a sweat on the elliptical machine with my headphones on. I was totally in the zone, keeping tempo to One Republic’s “Love Runs Out” on Spotify on my phone and watching a Food Network chef make Mexican lasagna on the little TV screen in front of me. My brain was a million miles away from what was going on around me when I suddenly become aware that someone was shouting.

I looked over and saw a couple leaning against the railing. To me, it looked like they were over the railing into the racquetball court below. The thought that entered my mind was “Wow, that must be a really exciting match to be shouting at the players like that.”

I turned back to the TV to see if they had finished sprinkling the cheese on top of the casserole when I realized that the shouting around me was still going on. This time, I turned my head to see the woman looking right at me. The words she was shouting started to penetrate my consciousness, “GET HELP!”

I probably heard her repeat this four or five times before my brain unscrambled enough to understand that the man whose back was towards me was suffering a medical event. Because he was leaning on the railing, he had not collapsed to the ground.

I pride myself on being fit and light on my feet. So, did I leap into action to get help, flying down the stairs to the front desk to have them call 911? Or since I my phone was within arm’s reach, did I fire through my list of Contacts until I got the Petaluma Police Deparment’s non-emergency number? I knew I it saved somewhere on my phone. My thinking was that since the gym is only a half mile away from the Police Station, calling them directly could bring emergency help more quickly.

Nope. I did neither of those things. The sad truth is that it didn’t even cross my mind to run to the front desk.  Instead, I spent at least a couple of minutes of precious time bumbling with my phone, being frustrated at not being able to fine the Police phone number in my contacts. Thankfully by the time I got to the screen to dial 911, other club members had responded and I heard that help was on the way.

Emergency help arrived and within a few minutes it looked like this gentleman would be fine; he was lucid and talking with them. But the experience left me shaken with the realization of how unprepared I am to react to an emergency situation. I felt pretty pathetic that under the stress of the moment, I couldn’t even make my phone work.

As Steve and I talked about it later, he reminded me how people who have to deal with emergency situations rehearse these scenarios over and over again so their reactions become automatic. It’s unrealistic of me to think that I could be fast on my feet – metaphorically speaking – in reacting to an emergency when I haven’t had any training.

So I decided to get more prepared in a very simple way so if this situation ever happens again, I can take action. I’ve spent a few minutes calmly rehearsing finding 911 and the Petaluma Police Department on my phone. It’s a baby step in being truly prepared for an emergency situation. But you never know when it could be an important one.

Celebrating at Cucina Paradiso

Sunday, January 11th, 2015

Usually on Friday night, we’re happy to be tucked in at home, scrolling through Netflix for something light to watch to cap off the week.

However, last Friday was Jennifer Lynn’s last night home from college before going back for spring semester so doing something more special than watch me nod off on the couch was in order. We wanted to go out for dinner but where to go? We wanted cozy with dependably great food and service… Cucina Paradiso it is!

When we arrived for our 6:30 reservation, it was almost a little shocking to step inside the restaurant and feel the energy level. As Steve said, the joint was jumping. Date night couples waiting to be seated, full tables of families, diners eating at the bar, wine bottles being passed around. I realized how much I had forgotten that not everyone is in bed by 9:00pm. “Oh that’s right! People actually go out and enjoy themselves on Friday nights!”

We are especially fond of Cucina because we had the opportunity to work with owners, Dennis and Malena more than a decade ago. As I recall, they were our first clients when we started our own marketing business. So it was hugs all around when Malena greeted us; we compared notes on the ages of our kids and introduced them to our youngest who is now 18. We commiserated with Malena on how quickly they grow up.

Throughout our meal, we commented on what an art it is to run a successful restaurant. When it works on all levels like it does at Cucina – the décor, wait staff, food, and price – that makes for a memorable experience. It’s no wonder that it was standing room only at the hostess station for people waiting to be seated.

The food was absolutely wonderful. Jennifer who is adventurous in all aspects of her life including food said that her Duck Ravioli was delicious. For me, I kept wondering why the roast chicken that comes from Cucina’s kitchen tastes so much better than mine? I suppose it’s the difference between someone cooking who really understands food and knows how to bring out the best flavor. My goals in cooking are more along the lines of not having anyone die.

We talked, laughed, savored every bite and in-between chatted with our daughter’s favorite teacher from elementary school who we hadn’t seen in years but happened to be there celebrating her birthday.

After we had licked our plates clean, we ordered desserts to split; Semifreddo  and a Pear and Spongecake Terrine. I know it was a really special night because Steve capped off his meal with Drambuie on the rocks. The last time he did that might have been on our honeymoon.

Everything came together that night to create an experience that leaves a lasting warm glow. For us, it was a Big Night.

Visiting Petaluma

Sunday, June 22nd, 2014

Just in case you didn’t know, Petaluma is a great little town to spend an afternoon window shopping and sight-seeing.

I spent three years working at the Petaluma Visitors Center encouraging people…as the Sonoma County Visitors Guide says…to experience Petaluma’s “charm of hometown Americana with wine country sophistication.”

But I’m sorry to say now that I live in Cotati and work in Marin County, most of the time I think of Petaluma as the five miles on 101 where traffic is going to crawl. I just want to get to the north or south end of town so that this long snake of cars that I’m stuck in the middle of can pick up speed and I can get home or get to work.

However, because I have worked outside of the community for the past six months, when Steve and I decided to celebrate the first day of summer by sharing a gelato in Petaluma, I had the opportunity to look at it with fresh eyes and appreciate what a picturesque, walkable town it is.

We parked in the Theatre District where there was plenty of free parking – love that – and headed to Powell’s. Of course, this being Petaluma, within minutes, we ran into a friend whose children had gone through school with ours. We probably only spent five minutes chatting, sharing the headlines of the our families’ news, but hearing that her beautiful daughters were doing great and that she had found a job in town that she is perfectly suited for, was an encouragement to us. Good things do come to good people.

In downtown Petaluma, we reminisced about all the Saturday afternoons we spent with our kids in Copperfields – remembering how our almost 22 year-old daughter loved going to “Copperfee-leds” when she was three for a new Angelina Ballerina book, or how her older brother couldn’t wait to get the next book in the Redwall  series.

We walked across the Balshaw Bridge and commented on how the city is recognizing the potential of the river. Although the area south of Water Street looks a little sad now, if the restoration of the Trestle becomes a reality, Petaluma will have a River attraction like now where else. We poked our heads into Dempsey’s and Taps and both joints were jumping.  Getting a beer looked tempting but too bad for us, we had just scraped out every last molecule from our cup of vanilla, coffee and chocolate almond gelato. We’ll save the beer for another visit.

My only disappointment for the afternoon was discovering that Viva Cocolat had closed. Of course, their chocolate was the best, but I had especially enjoyed getting to know the owner during my time at the Visitors Center. Lynn Wong could always be counted on to generously contribute to community events.

When Steve snapped this photo on his phone, we commented that it looked like it could be anywhere in the world. But the great thing is, it’s Petaluma.

Saying goodbye to the Petaluma Visitors Program

Sunday, January 5th, 2014

On December 31, 2013, not only did I say goodbye to another year, but I said goodbye to the wonderful staff, volunteers, and community that I had formed during the three years that I worked at the Petaluma Visitors Program.

I hadn’t planned to change my job situation but around Thanksgiving time, an opportunity arose through a friend to work in a family-owned small business, a world that I am very familiar with and appreciate since Steve and I own a similar type of business. When an opportunity arises in this sputtering economy, it isn’t to be taken lightly.

The past month has been a bittersweet time – while I am looking forward to returning to the business world and the growth that my new job will bring, it has also been hard because I will be leaving so many people who I love and respect. I was grateful that at our Christmas party, I had a chance to express – rather emotionally how much these folks have meant to me. Darn, I hate crying in public.

Here’s what working at the Visitors Program has mean to me:

I worked with staff members who care passionately about the community that they live in; they are not just collecting a paycheck but working tirelessly for the betterment of the city – staying positive when faced with obstacles or going up against just plain cranky, difficult people.

I worked with part-time staff members and volunteers who were extremely skilled and accomplished professionals from all walks of life; yet when they retired from their careers, they chose to work at the Visitors Center, always bringing an attitude of “I’m here to be helpful in whatever way I can,” no matter how often a lost tourist asked how they happened to end up in Petaluma when they wanted to be stay on Highway One.

I worked with board members who showed me a level of commitment to volunteering for an organization that I had never seen before. They weren’t doing it for the prestige or for a potential payback in the form of business or networking; they gave countless hours and put their plentiful skills to work purely because they believed in the mission of the organization.

So although it will take some extra effort on my part, I plan to stay connected with these people and the Petaluma community; relationships like these should be cherished and maintained.


Welcoming Santa

Sunday, December 1st, 2013

Once again, Santa and Mrs. Claus arrived in spectacular fashion on Saturday when they chugged up the Petaluma River in a Jerico tugboat. The sun was shining on the water, the temperature was almost balmy, and when the tug sounded its horn heralding Santa’s arrival at the Turning Basin, I think even those of us who haven’t sat on Santa’s lap for many, many years felt their heart beat a little faster in anticipation.

Thanks to a huge amount of support from Basin Street Properties, Santa and Mrs. Claus were able to greet children in a decorated tent outside of Tap’s new location in River Plaza shopping center. I’ve worked this event for a couple of years and while the kids are always adorable, sometimes they are not that eager to be face-to-face with a stranger in a big red suit and a full beard. I’ve seen some tense moments between parents when dad is determined to get the perfect photo for their Christmas card but mom doesn’t want to set off a tantrum with their 2 year-old that could take hours to recover from.

But perhaps because Santa and Mrs. Claus weren’t in a stuffy room or crowded mall setting, it relieved some of the pressure on the families waiting in line to sit on Santa’s lap and have their photo taken. Everyone was extremely patient and I don’t think I saw any toddlers burst into tears and cling to mom for dear life when they realized that they were being handed off to Santa.

Santa and Mrs. Claus take a break between kids’ Christmas wishes

Plus, Petaluma has the best Santa and Mrs. Claus this side of the North Pole. Sweet, genuinely interested in what the kids have to say, and willing to accommodate the families in whatever way works for their photo.

The day will stand out for me as a picture perfect Christmas memory. And thanks to John O’Hara at the Argus for taking such great photos. See them here.

Driven to serve

Sunday, October 27th, 2013

I noticed in last week’s newspaper that Meals on Wheels, a program offered by Petaluma People Services Center, is in need of more drivers. If you’ve been thinking about doing some community service work, I would like to share a little of our experience as MOW drivers in the hope that it might encourage you to consider volunteering; I think being a MOW driver is the perfect volunteer gig.

As you might already know, MOW provides a freshly prepared, nutritious meal to people who aren’t able to shop or prepare their own meals. So there’s no question that MOW performs a valuable and needed service in the community. And we have gotten a lot of gratification from the connection we develop with the people on our route.

Warm feelings are great, but let’s talk practicality; that’s why I think MOW is such a great way to volunteer.

Volunteering for MOW is predictable. We know that every other Saturday, we are going to do MOWs. It always stays on our calendar. That’s why Steve and I have been able to be MOW drivers for more than 15 years. Sure, we’ve had to miss a Saturday here-and-there but otherwise, we plan around it.

Driving MOW is routine. We arrive at Petaluma Valley Hospital at 11:30am and two containers – a cooler for the cold meals and an insulated tote for the hot meals – are ready and waiting for us along with a clipboard that has the delivery route for the day. Craig, the MOW coordinator, has thoughtfully included turn-by-turn directions along with any special instructions for recipients, such as “Knock and go in.” We load the car, deliver the meals, and by 1:30 we’re returning the containers to the hospital and go on with the rest of our day.

Delivering MOW is community service that you can do as a family. That’s why we initially started driving…to introduce our kids to the concept helping others. We would pile everyone in the car, tune into Radio Disney, give the oldest kid the clipboard to navigate and cross off the names as we made the delivery. The senior women loved it when our young daughters accompanied us and handed them their food; the ladies faces brightened like the sun had just come out.

As teenagers, all of our kids drove MOW when they had their provisional driver’s license. Two hours of driving around Petaluma, backing in-and-out of driveways was wonderful driving practice. I still remember when our middle daughter pulled into a parking place in one of the senior apartment complexes and managed to get the tire so tight to the curb that we spent 15 minutes going forward an inch, then reverse an inch, forward an inch, and so on until we could fully back out.

For our kids, other commitments such as school, activities, and jobs eventually took precedence over delivering MOW. But it was after it became just Steve and me driving MOW together that I really began to enjoy it. It’s like a date but without the cost and calories of going out to dinner. For the two hours that it takes us to deliver the meals, we have an opportunity to chat without the distractions of chores, computers, or phone. And at the same time, do something that feels pretty darn good.

If you’re interested in volunteering, contact at (707) 765-8484 and speak to Craig Mason.